I think if I could choose a profession in the Digital History world, I would be a podcaster. A close second would be a YouTuber, but podcasting you can do in your pajamas.
Podcast researcher Todd Cochrane has declared that “Podcasts are in vogue.” I have been a poscast listener since I got my first generation iPod Touch in 2007, though my podcasting experience usually occurred at 3am when I couldn’t sleep, and I would search for keywords of things that might entertain me until I could fall asleep. My download to listen ratio was severely out of balance.
While podcasts had indeed become less popular, I’m still not sure if “in vogue” accurately describes podcasts today, but I also think that sort of thing is difficult to gauge. Unlike other entertainment media, podcasts are supremely personal. This is facilitated by the medium that you play a podcast on, usually your smart phone. No one can hear what geeky podcast you’re listening to. Also, podcasts are often (but not always) not a visual medium. It’s hard to share anything on Facebook that doesn’t have a catchy photo with it. Because of this, I don’t know of any friends who listen to podcasts. On Facebook, one other friend likes the one podcast I listen to with any regularity.
Cecilia King believes that a renaissance in podcasting has begun thanks to advertising. “The industry has withstood the disruption that the Internet wrought on newspapers and TV, partly in thanks to an enormous audience of commuters trapped in cars.” The added intimacy of the relationship the listener imposes onto podcaster allows the podcast to advertise products more effectively. SquareSpace and Audible have taken full advantage of this trusting intimacy. Audible, I get. If you like listening to people talk while you’re driving, you might like listening to these other people talk while you drive. But SquareSpace is less clear. Just because I like listening to a podcast doesn’t mean I’m looking to build a website, but so many podcasts seem to advertise SquareSpace.
As Ian Forty points out, “having nothing to say doesn’t stop most podcasts from existing.” And that is the biggest problem with Podcasts, YouTube channels, blogs and any other unregulated media platforms available online. Anyone can create a podcast and publish it, with minimal equipment and technical knowledge. On the surface this seems great because people can reach out and find others interested in their obscure hobby, but it also leaves the field open to a lot of poor quality shows and misinformation. Dr Larry Cebula remarks on a case of a historical podcast where the information was outdated and mildly racist, but admits that “the real culprit here–the historical profession, which has been slow to adopt new technologies and has left the digital path open to well-meaning but untrained amateurs,” which is an ongoing theme I’ve noticed as historians try to make sense of this frightening digital world.
Despite the hurdles to becoming a successful podcaster, I still feel that I would find a great deal of satisfaction with this art form. Before podcasts, EWU professir emeritus Tom Mullin used to have a weekly special on KEWU where he would have a 3-5 monologue about his life growing up in rural Wyoming. It was very well recieved, and it’s a shame they were broadcast before the popularity of digital media, and so are not available online. But I would love to do something like that, or like the Memory Palace podcast for a living.